So taken with the melancholy

Music is a great catalyst for emotion because it gets to your core — Chris Milk

Last week, I discovered a piece of music I would dare to describe as the definitive theme, the musical blueprint that speaks to the relationship between my two main characters, my boys. The lyrics don’t speak entirely to the true nature of the relationship between my boys. It is the emotions the music evokes that simmers between them.

It happened by accident, to be honest. I follow a website called Nowness on Facebook and Twitter. It’s a great little site. So, I spotted one of their postings and because of the blurb and the image, I had to click and watch. What I clicked onto and watched was a dance video (if you want to label it as such) called The Idea of Us, directed by Geej Ower.

What adjectives can I use to describe this film (because it’s more than just a video)… heartbreaking, melancholic, breathtaking, tender, brilliantly simple in terms of its visual language and the body language belonging to the two characters, and just drop-dead beautiful. Yes, I’m a little obsessed with it, at the moment. I’ve never experienced before, a music/dance video, that basically put me under its spell the way this one has.

After seeing the vid, I was wondering what the fuck happened. The visual storytelling was clear. No ‘ifs, ands or buts’ about what it was about. That definitely didn’t confuse me. But I was left in the wake of the emotions, the intentions, the struggles of the lead character. They stayed with me. And that was pretty powerful.

You may watch the video and wonder what the fuck I’m talking about. I’m fine with you not understanding why this visual and musical manifestation of pain, loss and the struggle to move on is a masterpiece in my eyes and my heart. I’m also fine with you not reading this post anymore for whatever reason pops into your head. Later, dude. Make sure the door doesn’t hit you in the ass on the way out.

Movement, music and visual language are my holy trinity. Get the mix just right and it is beyond sublime. Ower’s video/film does that for me. I could spend days looking at that video, examining the details. Every. Fucking. Detail. I would go at it scene by scene, frame by frame. I’m such a geek.

You’d think I was looking for secrets. Secrets to what? I haven’t a clue and I don’t know what you’re talking about. But, if you insist, I’m looking for revelations and affirmations about my own artistic sensibilities — defining or redefining it by dissecting the sensibilities of others. Who are the kindred spirits? Who inspires me without even trying? If I met them at a bar, would we end up sharing a bottle of whisky or mezcal? I’m always up for new drinking buddies, especially when they make you think, in a good way.

I want to talk about the music as much as the visuals and the movement. Sometimes it’s so hard to separate them and talk about them in isolation from one another. It’s possible but it would be so wrong. So, I’ll start off with the music and weave everything else into it.

The song is This Idea of Us by UK singer-songwriter Jono McCleery. I don’t know what to say other than the combination of acoustic guitar teamed up with a string quartet and McCleery’s vocals has given me nothing but all kinds of intense feels. The kind that gently takes you by the hand and takes you on a slow burn journey that leaves you stunned and breathless at the end.

As an side, I have to say this: As much as I love the piano, I’ve become a sucker for string instruments. Their sound brings texture, complexity and nuance to a piece of music and to the sound of other instruments. I never thought to pair a string quartet with a guitar but it was done. McCleery’s friend, Matt Kelly, wrote the string quartet part for the song. He refers to Kelly as a wizard. I would have to agree. The layers of sounds he wrote for the strings, blend so seductively with McCleery’s voice. It really is sublime. Yeah, it’s definitely one way to seduce me. How do I know Kelly wrote the music for the strings? McCleery told me when we were chatting via Twitter. How did that happen? Well, I tweeted about being obsessed with This Idea of Us and we ended up having a small discourse.

So, back to that slow burn journey. That journey is manifested in the two characters in the film. Without a doubt, the two characters are portrayed by dancers because of the quality of their movement. While it’s not quite dance, the interaction and struggle is expressed in contemporary dance movements. The choice of particular movements enhance and magnify the music, the story and the characters’ motivations. And vice versa.

The visual choices the director makes, brings out the bittersweet melancholy of the song. Overcast skies with no hint of sun. Ambient light pouring into a home where its four walls, if it could talk, would tell you stories of a love that once lived there. The light is not harsh, cruel or dim. You’re just stuck in the grey. Nothing bright and colourful except for the rich blue sweater the lead character wears in most of his scenes. The memories of the past clashing with the need to move forward bleeds in the softness of shadow and light.

I don’t even know if what I feel when I listen to the song has been appropriately conveyed. Sometimes words are not enough or they can’t do justice to the intangibles. I think my words fall somewhere in between.

And I’m going back to play the crap out of that song again because it’s not done with me yet. It probably won’t ever be done with me. So enthralled. So taken. So under its spell.

Earworms and tall, cold drinks

Earworm — a song that sticks in your mind and will not leave no matter how much you try.

Last week, I spoiled myself and went to the movie theatre twice. I watched American Assassin and Kingsman: The Golden Circle. Loved both of them. I must have a thing for spy/action movies. Rom-coms can take a hike. The only one I might sit through is Love, Actually.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Michael Keaton so it was great to see him again on the big screen. I have to say the man ages well. I have no problem looking at him.

But I was impressed by Dylan O’Brien as the lead protagonist. I haven’t seen him in anything before this which is probably good because the stuff he’s been in isn’t what I would normally watch. There wouldn’t have been anything that would have put him on my radar before American Assassin. Wrong demographic. Next time, I’d like to see him sink his teeth into a dramatic role and surprise me.

Now that I’ve watched the film, I have plans to read the book the film was adapted from. It’s sitting on the kitchen counter right now. Waiting for me. Yeah, it along with a whole bunch of other books vying for my attention. My curiosity about the characters piqued my interest in the book and I want to know more of their backstory and their character development that two-hour film doesn’t show the viewer.

And of course, I was listening to the film score. And yes, I will be downloading the score in the near future.

With Kingsman: The Golden Circle, I was just looking to be entertained after a long work day. And entertained I was. Right from the get-go. Chase scenes and fight scenes were superb as usual.

What makes those scenes, aside from the choreography, is the music. It’s a bit of an assault on the senses, specifically, sight and hearing. You see this awesome scene in front of you and your ears pick up on the music and it turns into one big badass party.

The final fight scene was epic. Not just because of who were going toe-to-toe (who knew I would a long cold drink after that one. I certainly didn’t… ah, my newest fantasy trio), but also because of the music used for that scene.

Who remembers Word Up by Cameo? Yes, that was the song for the epic fight scene. But it wasn’t performed by Cameo. It was performed by The BossHoss, a Berlin band who started out in 2004 turning hit pop, rock and hip-hop songs into country & western ditties. Didn’t recognize it until they started singing the lyrics. Holy fucking crap! Up until then, I didn’t know how badly I needed this version in my life. I couldn’t help but dance in my seat. Picking that song for that scene — pure genius.

I believe all the music selected for the film falls on its director Matthew Vaughan. I’d like to pick his brain. Word Up turned into an earworm for me. But it wasn’t the only song to catch my ear.

Inexplicably, John Denver’s Take Me Home, Country Roads and Annie’s Song have been bouncing around in my head. Damn that man for using them in the film. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard a John Denver song used in a movie. Logan Lucky uses it. However, it wasn’t as jarring to hear it in that film as it was to hear it in Kingsman.

But you gotta love the contrast of all things American and British. It couldn’t be more apparent in the music selection. Speaking of which, Elton John is absolutely hilarious in the movie. Fucking. Hilarious. That’s all I can say.

And since I enjoyed that movie so damned much, I’m going to watch it again. Reinforce those earworms, why don’t I. Well, that and the eye candy. Subjecting myself to the eye candy is a good thing… as long as I have a tall, cold drink in hand.

A revelatory moment

Movies are made on models, particularly in the last few decades. You read a script and it’s like three acts. Something has to happen to the character that has to go to the end of the first act so that the second act is going to evolve the things until you end the second act with a big problem then at the end, things are going to be solved or it’s going to be sad or whatever. And then you have casual dialogue in the first act, then it becomes open dialogue between characters and ends up in being big monologues. This is, for me, a travesty and I hate it. But that is how 99 per cent of the fare that is given to us in cinemas worksLuca Guadagnino speaking at the 2017 TIFF Talks in Toronto to promote his latest film, Call Me By Your Name

Luca Guadagnino is officially one of my favourite directors — along with Barry Jenkins, Wong Kar-wai and Guillermo del Toro. Actually, he is at the top of my list.

Admittedly, my paltry list of favourite film directors isn’t as meaty as my list of favourite film composers. I just might be pickier when it comes to directors. But then, I also haven’t made the time to see a lot of movies either. I understand John Cassavates is a director whose work is a must-see for those wanting to get their toes wet in the world of film and filmmakers. I probably should start with a small list of directors I need to watch.

There are a number of things that go into making my favourites list. I’m hardly a film geek by any stretch of the imagination. But I know what I like and it’s usually the intangibles that grab my attention and determine who makes the list. I probably should be more geeky about the directors of photography but I haven’t figure that one out yet.

So, why is Guadagnino at the top of my favourite directors list? Oddly enough, it isn’t because of any of the films he has directed. I confess to not seeing any of them except for I am Love. It’s impossible to forget Tilda Swinton. I should watch that movie again before I see Call Me By Your Name. And I should also watch A Bigger Splash. It was a film that had been on my radar when it first came out but for whatever reason, I never got around to watching it. I can be so delinquent.

The reason Guadagnino is my number one director is because of the quote at the beginning of this post. But there’s much more to that quote and how he approaches filmmaking, storytelling and the truth as it exists in a story.

When he spoke about the three-act story arc, my mouth hit the floor. It must have stayed on the floor for a solid 5-10 minutes. Guadagnino referring to the three-act story arc as a travesty didn’t shock me. What shocked me was that there was someone else who felt the same way I (more than occasionally) felt about adhering to a three-act story arc. I should have jumped up and down for joy upon discovering that there was a like-minded soul out there. But I was so surprised by what he said, I didn’t know what to do with myself when I heard it. It was revelatory.

In another interview at the Toronto International Film Festival, he talked about the concept of genre movies and how very much it was an American construct, a way of compartmentalizing things, boxing things. Personally, I think one of the reasons genres are used to categorize anything and everything in the entertainment and literary industries is it makes marketing easier for studios and publishers.

Coming from a European filmmaking point of view, Guadagnino noted that genres are not as adhered to on the other side of the Atlantic pond. All that matters, ultimately for him, is telling a good story regardless of what genre the story falls under.

I just might be living on the wrong continent. I could not love the man more if I tried.

If someone were to ask me what genre of fiction I write in, I’d respond with “I don’t think about genre. I think about the story.” I couldn’t give a flying fuck what genre my stories fit into. The only reason I describe my current writing project as falling into the crime genre is because my writing mentor labelled it as such. Before that I couldn’t tell you because I don’t think about genre. I don’t like boxing in a story in that manner. I have plenty to deal with so that genre will never be a priority with me. That may or may not get me into a shitload of trouble down the road but I couldn’t give a fuck right now.

With each genre, there are conventions a writer should adhere to in order for it to fit into that genre. I probably was aware of this as a reader on some sort of subconscious level. As a writer, not so much. I was informed by my writing mentor about certain things that never appear or are never really used in crime novels. I won’t discuss discuss what they were but rest assured, I was not impressed. Ultimately, the do’s and don’ts are things I can deal with although I’m probably going to push the envelope where the ‘dont’s’ are concerned. Not because I’d be doing it out of spite. It’s more the case of I can’t fucking help myself.

It’s my understanding that each genre has its own rhythm. The crime genre definitely has it’s own rhythm. I, on the other hand, am familiar with one rhythm — mine. So, to get a taste and feeling for the rhythm, I read The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain, I, the Jury by Mickey Spillane, Sin City by Frank Miller and Elmore Leonard’s City Primeval.

At the outset, I can’t tell you what I’ve learned from reading those books because it’s one of those learn-through-osmosis deals. Whatever I’ve absorbed will be blended into my storytelling rhythm. I suppose it will be one of those slow evolution situations that I won’t notice unless someone points it out because they see it.

Listening to Guadagnino’s words has added more fuel to a fire that has been happily crackling away. Now, it’s become a little brighter and a few degrees warmer. I might be understating the heat temperature, though. Just a little.

Now, I’m gotta get back to that fire and stoke it for awhile.